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Engineering student conducts groundbreaking bee research

Fourth-year Rowan Sprague is buzzed about honeybee traps

Fourth-year Engineering student Rowan Sprague has applied for a Fulbright Research Grant to study ecological engineering in New Zealand and research ways to manipulate agricultural systems to benefit honeybee populations.

Sprague received a Harrison Undergraduate Research grant in the spring of last year for her innovative work with trapping predatory beetles to protect beehives.

Sprague’s said her interest in nature, and honeybees in particular, peaked at an early age. “Since honeybees are critical to pollination of many crops, I naturally gravitated towards studying them,” Sprague said. “I first began to learn more seriously about honeybees in a class called ‘Bee School,’ which was a seminar in the 2011-2012 academic year and was supported by the Mead Endowment.”

Taught by Mathematics Prof. Christian Gromoll, and part-time beekeeper, Bee School is a non-credit class focused on beekeeping and honeybee behaviors.

“From class and my research, I learned about a pest called the Small Hive Beetle, which, through its infestation of hives, causes loss of honey and, worst case, hive collapse,” Sprague said. “I discussed ideas with Professor Gromoll about how to design a structural trap to prevent the hive beetles from entering the beehives.”

With the funds from the grant, Sprague began calling bee suppliers in the region to order hives and start her own honeybee colonies. She is keeping the bees at nearby Morven Farms and built her first set of traps in July.